Eli Whitney And The Cotton Gin

Look, it’s not like the South didn’t always have Agricultural Slavery because they always did, originally in the Tobacco, Indigo, and Sugar Cane Trade. It’s equally useless to pretend that despite some exceptions the burden of this labor fell overwhelmingly on Kidnapped Black Africans and later by breeding their descendants like cattle.

It is what it is. Part of this grand fabric we call ‘Murika.

But, you know, Pipe Weed, Purple Shirts, and Rum (Why is there never any Rum? Oh, that’s why.) is not enough to make you hyper wealthy. It’s certainly not Gold Mines in Mexico and Silver Mines in Peru. And so Slavery was an atavistic curiosity like street legal Automatic Rifles.

Eli Whitney changed all that.

Gin in this case has nothing to do with an aromatic liquor infused with Juniper Berries (to which I’m just as allergic as Bell Peppers) and other herbs. It’s short for Engine.

If you’ve ever handled raw cotton you’ll know that it looks like a burst milkweed with a coconut husk. Crack that off and you’re rewarded with a bundle of fiber and seeds you have to clean and straighten before it’s worth a damn thing. Lots of Labor, even slave, for not much market because it was too damn expensive.

Should this sound like a problem that can be solved with engineering and industrialization then you would be like minded with Eli, Nutmegger through and through (Nutmegger in this context meaning someone who will trade Slaves for Rum all day long AND sell you a piece of wood and call it Nutmeg) of New Haven Connecticut, a luminous symbol of our State virtue just like Benedict Arnold.

I had a whole year of this crap.

Anyway, Whitney’s great contribution to Slavery in the United States was to make it mega-profitable. Get a bunch of Slaves. Have them pick hundreds of pounds a day. Pour it in a hopper. Grind, grind, grind. Bundle and ship it.

To be fair most of this was processed in Mill Towns in New England and the Factories linger next to their ponds in picturesque repurposing. It takes a keen eye to see where the water powered belts which ran the looms used to be.

But there was also the foreign trade, raw or finished and let’s face it- Cotton is a whole lot less itchy than Wool (though a Wool economy is more sustainable). It is no exaggeration to say that at the outbreak of the Crusade Against Slavery about 2 thirds of the total wealth of the United States was in human chattel property or Industries based on Slave Labor.

So it was a Class War too.

Do I think it was out of line for Pam Northam to hand around a Cotton Boll and ask people to imagine what life would be like as a Slave? Not really, and not even if an Eighth Grader (that’s a Junior in a Junior High system, 6 – 3 – 3, 14 years old) is offended somehow.

This is reality. This is History. Denial does not help.

Better you should really understand it. Though I saw it many years ago (somewhat earlier in my education than this student) I remember it to this day and I feel the experience taught me a lot, both about Economics (Connecticut, New England, and New York were totally complicit- all those Mansions built on the “China” Trade?), and about the thoroughly miserable and harsh conditions Slaves had to suffer.

Then again, Ben Franklin White. There are levels I am incapable of grasping.